All entries for November 2012

November 19, 2012

Tell me what you're made of and I'll tell you who you are

Ever felt bored? Disillusioned? Disoriented? Frustrated... for no apparent reason?

What’s your Element? How Finding your Passion Can Change Everything
Have you ever read something that is so simple it’s revolutionary? The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Emeritus of Education at Warwick, is one of these simple masterworks. Robinson focuses on the life changing results that can occur when one discovers their ‘element’, the meeting point between talent and passion. That synergy between our strengths and zeal can remove the ‘work’ element from work, replacing it with fervour, anticipation, and verve.

Tell me what you’re made of and I’ll tell you who you are
‘I don’t know what job I want to do but I’m going to apply anyway’ is a phrase I hear from numerous students on a daily basis, when I inquire after their motivation for their chosen career field. The chagrin and frustration I experience can be paralleled to theirs, I’m sure. Pursuing ‘world class education’ in one of the most reputable academic institutions in the UK and beyond is hard enough. Paying a hefty fee for a degree that, in theory, should be ‘value for money’ – alas, this phrase has entered the Higher Education industry exacebrates matters further, as the ‘value’ for many corresponds to retribution in kind, that is, a job. Right or wrong, that’s not the point! The point is the following: If you are prudent enough to place a ‘value’ on your degree, have you taken the same trouble to place value on yourself? Let me makes this clear:

Where does you value lie?
Your value lies in your strengths. Have you ever been encouraged to really consider and reflect on your talents, your passion, your intrinsic capacities? If yes, have you done so? If no, when would be the right time for you to start doing so? How can you convey your value to others, if you can’t reflect on it yourself? Let’s start from the basics: skills vs. strengths

What’s in a Skill? What’s in a Strength?
A skill is a quality you have mastered through practice and repetition and have habitually become accomplished at it. you rarely consider whether you like it or not, as it’s what you’re good at.

A strength is an innate talent, a capacity that, while it improves and strengthens with practice, it feels so pure and inherent. A strength makes you ‘tick’, gives you the buzz to go about doing your work, and makes time move a lot faster than it actually does. Combine your strengths with passion and that’s your ‘element’, your calling in life, if you will!

Task of the day
This is a tool that can help you understand your value(s) to start with… Please, answer these questions by listing five items for every answer:

1. What am I passionate about?
2. What are these activities that I derive the greatest joy from?
3. I am happiest when I do the following:
4. What are my friends saying I’m really good at?
5. What are my skills?
6. What are my natural talents and strengths?

Now, go through your answers and list down the common characteristics that occur and re-occur in them. This is your 'element', what makes up your purpose in life. From here, you can proceed to ask yourself:

7. What are the jobs that could entail some of the above?

My Element
A few days ago, while helping a student for with his interview preparation, I was asked the following question: “Why do you do this job? With your knowledge and expertise you could be doing anything you wanted!” While this assumption merits a few more (sensationalist maybe?) blog posts, I was stupefied at my instant answer: "I do this job because on a Saturday morning I can’t wait to go back to work on Monday!" And it's true, promise! When I’m with students time stops! It does not matter if it’s one or ten hours, I give my autopilot a bad name by doing the job better than him… and I'm loving it. You can say I’m in my ‘element’.

In hindsight – hindsights, what priceless gifts they are! – if I look back, I could have spotted my ‘element’ very early on, but life was too busy and my inimical societal and academic conditioning was too comfortable to bother! Yes, the long and winding journey was worth the wrong choice of jobs, destructive co-workers, self-exploration and self-awareness that followed and rendered everything worthwhile. Yet, you don’t have to go through all this…

So, what’s your ‘element’?
Do the exercise above and discover your strengths that lie dormant and wait for you to awaken them and put them to use. Feel free to share your findings with others here! It’s time we all looked inwards before we pursue our dreams and realise how incredibly precious, wonderful, unique we are; the prevalent ‘other way around method’ is set for despondent disillusionment…

Stay positive!


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November 14, 2012

PhD Life Blog: Guide to Employability: Step 1. Be Original – Know Thyself

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This entry is published in the PhD Life Blog of Warwick Research Exchange. You can read the full article here.

On 16th December 2010, an article of The Economist entitled Doctoral Degrees: The Disposable Academic, caused much controversy by claiming that disgruntling doctoral experiences and brutalising career prospects render a PhD highly unnecessary and a ‘waste of time.’ The author maintained that universities take advantage of PhD students and use them as ‘cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour’ that will ‘do more research, and […] more teaching, with less money’ to conclude that ‘the interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned.’

Don’t believe everything you hear: You make your PhD, it does NOT make you!

It is not in the scope of this blog entry to agree or disagree with the Economist’s piece, although I know quite a few PhD students and graduates who would report similar experiences. In fact, as a PhD graduate, I could be the first to point my finger to an inept academic system that, I felt, failed me. What my gruesome yet invaluable post-PhD experience has taught me, however, is that systems don’t change unless mentalities do, and futures don’t alter unless presents transform. As professional researcher myself, then, I would like to begin by looking at you in the eyes and ask:

What’s your research in?
If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been asked this question as a PhD candidate…! As doctoral researchers, I am sure you have built a well-oiled questioning machine, equipped with your inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity. Research must run in your veins by now! But have you turned your questioning machine inwards? Have you really asked yourself what you wish to get out of your PhD? What’s the plan A? What’s the Plan B? (Yes, two options are better than one!) These are by no means trick questions nor provocative ones.

When students write applications for graduate schemes in the corporate world, one of the main criteria is to show commitment towards a certain career aspiration and specify how a three year graduate programme will contribute towards their career development plan. Just like a training programme in a large corporation, your PhD is your apprenticeship for your future career. Make no mistake here, a PhD does not have to be the means to an academic end only! Have you decided what you wish to do post-submission and how your doctorate will help you get there? Did you and your supervisor ask this question from the very kick-off of your PhD? Do you keep asking throughout? I fear, more than I know, that most frequently the answer is ‘no’.

Who are you? What are you?

As a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor, I work with PhD students who, more often than not, dismiss the above mentioned questions as too daunting, putting off their career decision plans for the post-submission stage. I have classified the hitherto most widespread tendencies in three main categories.

The Whatever-ers: those who have no idea of what’s out there for them and vast reluctance to find out.

The No Way-ers: those who have ruled out the prospect of an academic career as a result of, more often than not, poor doctoral experiences and, at some point, will consider their options.

The Default-ers: those who, moulded in the droning shelter of a PhD, got so desensitised by the intellectual process of proving something original, that lose sight of the wider picture, and inevitably follow the only – in their minds – route available to them, academia.

I have yet to meet the fervently steadfast PhD candidate who forcefully marches their way towards a predetermined goal via the doctoral route! This, I hope, is my loss rather than the norm!

Guide Employability: Be Original – Know Thyself
As a professional in the making, you’re better off researching yourself, your dreams, your needs and your aspirations. Identify what you want and start building your professional background in the same way that you are constructing your thesis, with passion, commitment, and, most of all, originality. Your PhD fate does not need to be as acrimonious as the Economist correspondent proclaimed. You don’t need to be one of the many! You don’t need to be dispirited, lost, and steered. Conditioning can be as dangerous as conformity and doctoral environments can be, ironically, prone to both! So take charge of the present NOW and steer it towards your desired future. It’s only when you know yourself and your needs that you’ll be able to make the best decisions for yourself and market yourself effectively.  

To be continued…

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  • Oh dear Ioanna your blog entries are always so inspiring to read…!! I have experienced the same th… by Terry on this entry
  • Dear Anne–So, Thank you very much for your comment! First of all, well–done for recognising your val… by Ioanna Iordanou on this entry
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